Strengthen Catholic Identity

(The Church’s) many religious, educational and charitable institutions exist for one reason only: to proclaim the Gospel. Their witness must always proceed ex corde Ecclesiae, from the very heart of the Church. It is of utmost importance, therefore, that the Church’s institutions be genuinely Catholic: Catholic in their self-understanding and Catholic in their identity. All those who share in the apostolates of such institutions, including those who are not of the faith, should show a sincere and respectful appreciation of that mission which is their inspiration and ultimate raison d’être.

Today, creativity is especially needed in better shaping ecclesial institutions to fulfill their prophetic mission. This means finding innovative ways to enable the light of Christ to shine brightly, so that the gift of his grace may truly “make all things new” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, At the Beginning of the New Millennium, No. 54).

The Church’s many institutions in the United States — schools, universities, hospitals and charitable agencies — must not only assist the faithful to think and act fully in accordance with the Gospel, overcoming every separation between faith and life (Christifideles Laici, No. 34), but they must themselves embody a clear corporate testimony to its saving truth. This will demand constantly re-examining their priorities in the light of their mission and offering a convincing witness within a pluralistic society to the Church’s teaching, particularly on respect for human life, marriage and family, and the right ordering of public life.

The Church’s educational institutions will be able to contribute effectively to the New Evangelization only if they clearly preserve and foster their Catholic identity. This means that “the content of the education they impart should make constant reference to Jesus Christ and his message as the Church presents it in her dogmatic and moral teaching” (Ecclesia in America, No. 71). Moreover, a truly Catholic education will aim at an integration of knowledge within the context of a vision of the human person and the world which is enlightened by the Gospel. By their very nature, Catholic colleges and universities are called to offer an institutional witness of fidelity to Christ and to his word as it comes to us from the Church, a public witness expressed in the canonical requirement of the mandatum (The Application of Ex Corde Ecclesiae in the United States, Part 2). …

The Church’s presence in elementary and secondary education must also be the object of your special attention as shepherds of the people of God. Local parochial schools have done much to provide solid academic, moral and religious formation for so many Americans, Catholic and non-Catholic alike. I take this opportunity to acknowledge with gratitude the devoted work of countless priests, religious and lay people in the field of Catholic education, and I invite you to join me in encouraging them to persevere in this necessary mission (Congregation for Catholic Education, Consecrated Persons and Their Mission in Schools, No. 84). I would also ask you to encourage your priests to continue to be present and visible in parish schools and to make every effort to ensure that, despite financial difficulties, a Catholic education remains available to the poor and the less privileged in society.

Religious education programs, too, are a most significant component of the Church’s evangelizing mission. While catechetical programs for children and young people, especially in relation to sacramental preparation, remain essential, increasing attention must be paid to the particular needs of older adolescents and adults. Effective programs of religious education, whether on the diocesan or the parish level, require a constant discernment of the actual needs of the different ages and groups, as well as a creative assessment of the best means of meeting them, especially the need for training in mental prayer, the spiritual reading of Scripture (Dei Verbum, On Divine Revelation, No. 11) and the fruitful reception of the sacraments.

This continuing discernment calls for the personal involvement of the bishop, together with pastors, who are directly responsible for the religious instruction imparted in their parishes, with religious-education professionals, whose generosity and experience are such a great resource in your local churches, and with parents, who are called before all others to form their children in the faith and in Christian living.

The many initiatives of American Catholics on behalf of the elderly, the sick and the needy — through nursing homes, hospitals, clinics and various relief and assistance centers — have always been, and continue to be, an eloquent witness to the “faith, hope and love” (1 Corinthians 13:31) which must mark the life of every disciple of the Lord. … Established policies in complete conformity with the Church’s moral teaching need to be firmly in place in Catholic health-care facilities, and every aspect of their life ought to reflect their religious inspiration and their intimate link to the Church’s mission of bringing supernatural light, healing and hope to men and women at every stage of their earthly pilgrimage.